IT was a familiar sound across Glasgow when ships blew their horns on the River Clyde as the bells struck midnight to bring in the New Year.

Known as the second city of the empire, Glasgow was built on shipbuilding, but the demise of the industry and the lack of activity on the river front for decades took its toll.

However, now as Glasgow emerges from the pandemic and enters another crucial point in its history, how it moves forward is under the spotlight.

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A recent strategy report put the riverside centre stage with a new strategy describing the River Clyde as being “perhaps the greatest untapped development opportunity in Western Europe”.

The comment came as Glasgow City Region - made up of eight councils, including Glasgow City Council - set out how it plans to address current and future challenges, including the Covid-19 pandemic, the climate emergency and technological advances.

The Herald: River Clyde is key to survival says Professor Alan DunlopRiver Clyde is key to survival says Professor Alan Dunlop

According to Professor Alan Dunlop, one of Scotland’s leading architects, believes regeneration of the river front is fundamental to the city’s future.

“It is remarkable how little has happened or been orchestrated by the people who make things happen,” said Professor Dunlop. “This is the river that made the city. I know there is a new initiative being planned by Glasgow City Council leader Susan Aitken, but it seems to me it is only one of a number of possible things that are going to happen that never seem to come off.”

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Mr Dunlop, a Fellow of the Royal Incorporation of Architects in Scotland and the Royal Society of Arts and who trained at the Mackintosh School of Architecture, said one of the problems in developing the riverside is ownership.

The Herald: The Upper Clyde Shipyard shop stewards, Jimmy Reid and Bob Dickie speaking to reporters at the shipyard in Glasgow. In Autumn 1971, threats to close down shipbuilding on the Upper Clyde caused demonstrations and strikes as the workers fought to keep their jobs.The Upper Clyde Shipyard shop stewards, Jimmy Reid and Bob Dickie speaking to reporters at the shipyard in Glasgow. In Autumn 1971, threats to close down shipbuilding on the Upper Clyde caused demonstrations and strikes as the workers fought to keep their jobs. (Image: Stock)

He added: “It might be hard to believe but it is difficult to track down who owns vast tracks of the river front, so it is difficult to make connections from the city centre even out to the new transport museum because you are potentially passing by land that no one knows who owns it. The city council have always been reluctant to instigate compulsory purchase orders because that leads to potential legal problems.

“There is also the problem of the Clydeside Expressway, which at the time it was conceived in 1945, the river was an industrial river. There wasn’t really any need for anyone to go down there unless they were building a ship. So, the Clydeside Expressway really cuts off the whole of the west end down to the river front and that is a major transportation and infrastructure challenge to do something with that. I think that various councils, or administrations, have looked at this but have thought the problems associated with it are just insurmountable. They only have a four-year window to look ahead before elections, so they just don’t take it any further forward.”

The Herald: Jimmy Reid addresses a mass gathering in 1971Jimmy Reid addresses a mass gathering in 1971 (Image: Newsquest)

Mr Dunlop has had an interest in talking about the future of the river since he was a student in the 1980s and been trying to promote and focus on the river ever since.

He added: “I’ve done many presentations on the potential of it and in 1996 when Glasgow had won the title of the European City of Architecture and Design for 1999, I was asked if I would chair the Glasgow Institute of Architects committee which ran for that and I tried to make it as a focus that the brief for 1999 should be about the development of the river front, but the director at the time had little interest and instead we saw the development of the Lighthouse Building and new housing developments at the Trongate – homes for the future.”

The Herald: Work is due to start on the £29.5m Govan to Partick bridgeWork is due to start on the £29.5m Govan to Partick bridge

He said initiatives seem to be on a piecemeal basis rather than something which is looking seriously at how we handle stretches of the waterfront and is now calling for a bone deep investigation into what is possible for the river.

He added: “There has to be a collective agreement by Glasgow City Council and the Scottish Government that the regeneration of the River Clyde is a fundamental part of the future of this city. We have a river that nothing really of any substance is actually happening on it and we have to do something with it. I think it is time to get everyone with an interest in the river around the table to hammer out a strategic way forward for how we do this.

“One of the positives about the river is the new bridges,” added Mr Dunlop. “I’m from the north of the city and in my generation if you lived in the north, you would never dream of going to the south and vice versa, but the bridges connect both north and south and is a great development.”

For an area which used to employ thousands, the river was the lifeline of the city, but after the shipyards closed, Mr Dunlop feels that Glaswegians almost became embarrassed about it.

“Few cities of the world have rivers running through the centre of them and even less make good use of them. Great cities, such as Paris, make use of their river, but Glasgow just doesn’t seem to be able to harness that.

“It makes complete sense to do something with the river, but I think Glaswegians were embarrassed by the decay in the river with the decline in shipbuilding. They didn’t want to focus so much on the river front. So much of the city was made from the river, but so little has actually happened since the decline of shipbuilding.”